I recall a conversation I had last year with a fellow photographer who pretty much tried to convince me not to bother attempting to make a living from taking photographs.
Her reasoning was that the market was already over-saturated with people just like me. Now, this particular photographer is a actually a very talented individual who predominantly shoots weddings and I wondered why she would have such a negative attitude given the exceptional quality of her portfolio. I decided to try and get to the bottom of why she was so adamant that it was now nigh on impossible to make a living in a creative industry.
She explained that with the advent of digital there was simply too much competition out there. She kept coming back to that word…competition. To me it seemed that she was so preoccupied with what her peers were doing that she had lost the ability to appreciate and focus on her own talent and what she could offer. I suspect that she was having a bit of a crisis of confidence; artistic people are almost always like this. They love their work one minute then are hyper-critical about it the next. I’m like this too but I’ve managed to train my brain to stray from too much negative thinking because I believe that negative thoughts are a killer to anyone working in a creative job, it will simply kill your business. Nobody wants to work with a miserable person; a positive mindset is incredibly contagious.
The thing about competition is that without it any creative industry would collapse in on itself and die, or at the very least it would be littered with uninspiring imagery. The advent of digital cameras has given people the opportunity to take photos like never before; true, images are infinitely more disposable these days but if you hone in on a particular genre of photography you will notice that the digital age has lead to a phenomenal increase in the quality of the output. Just look at your typical wedding photo album from 15-20 years ago and the vast majority of images are dull, group shots of family and friends stood awkwardly outside church, forcing smiles when we all know they are just itching to get to the bar at the reception. These days there are some breathtaking wedding photographers out there, the explosion of competition has raised the bar immeasurably. People now expect far more from their wedding photographer and as a result some of the work on show is beautiful.
Some photographers bemoan the decline in the once lucrative photo-stock industry; they say that digital has killed this particular income stream. In this case they probably have a point but instead of sitting around moaning about it they should try to adapt before it’s too late. I find it interesting speaking to photographers in their early twenties who have never dabbled in stock photography, yet they can still be successful. Why is this? Because they have never had to rely on stock photography, it’s never been on their radar so they make a living from something else…weddings, portraits, commercial, concerts, corporate events etc.
What was once relevant is now less so, this is the same in all walks of like, in every single art form there has ever been. The advent of digital has been superb, a real game changer, it should be celebrated and embraced. Photography is still an incredibly tough industry to make a living from, there is no doubt about that. I’ll never be rich, but I don’t want to be rich, that’s not why I chose to take photos; I just enjoy seeing people pushing the boundaries and experimenting and this wouldn’t happen if we were forever sat in our little comfort zone.
Competition nurtures creativity.
by Steve Grogan, aged 38 and a quarter.